Spanish rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid will join England’s elite clubs Manchester United and Chelsea among the top seeded teams in Thursday’s Champions League group stage draw.
Inter Milan, the 2010 winner which lost its title to Barcelona, also heads one of eight four-team groups to be drawn in Monaco.
AC Milan needs Serie A rival Udinese to eliminate high-ranked Arsenal in Wednesday’s playoffs for the seven-time European champions to avoid dropping into the pot of No. 2 seeded teams.
Big-spending Manchester City seems the most dangerous opponent of the third-seeded clubs. Rankings are based on performance in UEFA’s competitions in the past five seasons, and Man City has played in the second-tier Europa League just twice in that span.
Bundesliga champion Borussia Dortmund, which won the 1997 Champions League, returns after a nine-year absence as a No. 4 seeded side.
With UEFA rules preventing clubs from the same country being placed in the same group, a foursome of Barcelona, Milan, Man City and Dortmund would shapes as a tough and glamorous potential group.
The fourth-seeded pot also includes Napoli, which last played in the old-style European Cup 21 years ago, while Romanian champion Otelul Galati will make its debut.
Turkish champion Fenerbahce takes its place despite being under suspicion in a widespread match-fixing investigation at home.
UEFA has promised that any club found guilty of corrupting matches will be kicked out of its marquee competition and have its results wiped from the record.
”UEFA is working very hard behind the scenes to ride the game of these threats,” general secretary Gianni Infantino said at the playoffs draw this month. ”We will not hesitate to prosecute any individual, any official or any club.”
The Champions League is the world’s most watched club competition, and UEFA distributed €754 million ($1.09 billion) in prize money and bonuses among clubs which played in last season’s group stage.
The 32 clubs in Thursday’s draw are set to share at least the same amount as a three-year cycle of broadcasting and sponsorship deals ends next May after the final in Munich.
The final places will be decided after the return matches Wednesday in five playoffs, including Udinese-Arsenal, Rubin Kazan-Lyon and Benfica-FC Twente.
The draw is conducted at the beachside Grimaldi Forum in Monte Carlo during a lavish ceremony.
As a warmup act, UEFA will announce the inaugural winner of its Best Player in Europe award. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez, and Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo figure on a three-player shortlist elected by a panel of 53 journalists.
The panel, representing each of UEFA’s member nations, also votes for the winner.
UEFA created the honor after ”France Football” magazine combined its traditional European award with FIFA’s world player prize.